Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

10 Tips on How to Receive Notes on Your Writing


Apologies for skipping last week’s Industry Friday post. I was pulling an all-nighter to finish my pilot, which I turned in last Friday morning. This week I received notes on the draft. I’d like to share some insight on this process which every writer deals with some point or another. Getting notes can feel a bit like getting advice on how to raise your children. Your first instinct is to tell the note-giver to go F*** themselves. You must fight this instinct, breathe, and remember the following:

1. You gave your work to this person(s) for a reason. Hopefully, because you respect their opinion or they were referred to you by someone you respect. What smarts the most, of course, is when someone you respect gives you the cold hard truth, your work still needs work, your work would be better off as fire kindle. I once sent a screenplay to a mentor who wrote me back a 3-page typed letter basically saying: “throw this crap out, start again.” I was REALLY disappointed. But he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oscar-nominated writer, and I was not. After the hurt and hangover wore off, I realized how lucky I was that he would take the time to write me a 3-page letter! I took his suggestions and wrote a much better screenplay.

2. The note-giver is trying to help you. Whether they’re correct in their advice is beside the point. If they’re not an agent of Satan, chances are they have positive intentions. (And if they are, then who cares what they say? Just nod your head and say thank you.)

3. Your work DOES need work. Especially if it’s a first draft, but even if it’s your tenth. Any professional screenwriter, playwright or author will tell you, until it is either printed or on the screen, you can and will make improvements.

4. Did you ask for specific or general notes? If it’s your first draft, you’re probably seeking general story notes. If it’s your tenth, do yourself a favor and tell the note-giver ahead of time to not suggest radical story changes but rather specific page notes. It’s also okay (and wise) to ask someone to simply proofread your work.

5. Does the note-giver understand what you’re going for? Did you write a serious period piece and receive notes on how to make it funnier and more modern? If the note-giver doesn’t tell you their general understanding upfront, then you should ask them to make sure you’re both talking about the same project. If yes, then great. If not, it’s useful to know that your draft did not communicate your intentions, OR this note-giver is not the right person to read it.

6. Always get a second opinion. Opinions are subjective, especially about art. So, if you’re seeking feedback, never rely on only one person. Ask several people (whom you trust and respect). If more than one person gets back to you with the same note, chances are it is a valid point that you might want to consider.

7. Realize that the note-giver might have an agenda. Sometimes people give notes based on what they want you to write, not on what you’ve actually written. You have to be discerning and…

8. Trust your instincts. Don’t automatically take every note you receive. Sit with it. Imagine how it would change the piece if you applied it. Would it change it drastically or just a little? Often the best notes are actually things we know to be true but were too lazy or afraid to address. Sometimes we don’t know how to address and secretly hope the note-giver will tell us how to do so. But this should be avoided if possible. It’s up to the writer to solve his/her own problems. The note-giver is just there to tell you if you succeeded or not.

9. Take the good notes, leave the bad. Sometimes you receive a gem of a note, something so brilliant you wish you had thought of it yourself. If this happens, remain calm, do not overreact (lest the note-giver suddenly want co-writing credit) and by all means take the damn note! You can do the happy dance (and thank your lucky stars) in private. Conversely, think of all the bad notes like rain water, as in a little rain can’t hurt you.

10. Say THANK YOU. You should nod your head and say thank you to anyone who takes the time to read your work, regardless of who they are, whether they give you good or bad notes, whether they have an agenda or any of the above. In fact, unless you paid for the notes you should offer to do something for the note-giver in return. Reading your work took time and mental energy. Insightful notes are a gift for which every writer should be grateful and humble.

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the movie MIDNIGHT IN PARIS as said by the character Ernest Hemingway to the character played by Owen Wilson who has just asked for Hemingway’s opinion of his novel:

“My opinion is I hate it. If it’s bad I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”

Happy creating!

Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

8 thoughts on “10 Tips on How to Receive Notes on Your Writing

  1. I realized last week I really missed these post on friday. 😦

    AND I love Ernest Hemingway…because … he writes so simply about complex things. I found an old book of his short stories and many an evening as been spent curled up with Mr. Hemingway. I love writers who can say so much with so few words. I appreciate brevity…as I tend to be long winded.

    Also…you would enjoy Broadside – http://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/ … she reminds me abit of your style. Also she’s a freedlancer, a Canadian, and she now lives in New York City. AND…once she LIKED one of my posts and I admire her. I’m a chicken right now THINKING about giving my work to someone to critique. This was good advice …. Muchas Gracias

    • Ah, thanks PaulaB! I will check out broadsideblog. I too love Hemingway. He’s an idol of mine actually. And yes, giving one’s work out is terrifying at first but like with anything you get used to it. There’s a difference between your work and you, if that makes sense. Maybe I’ll post about that. Thanks for commenting as usual. Wish we could go grab a beer. 🙂

      • Oh yes…I’m having one now with my sis..well…I’ve drank a bottle of Shiraz and now I’m drinkin’ beer…;-) We will some day…even if I go there for…we will

  2. Some very helpful tips to keep in mind as I receive responses on my short-story trilogy.

    I am reminded of the evaluative file I was handed after successfully completing the process of becoming a pastor. On the front of the 6-inch thick manila folder was a sticky note which read –

    “Tony is not one of our best candidates, but we are glad he has worked through some of his issues.”

    • Thanks for sharing IndyTony. Hope you don’t mind me saying that people can sometimes be idiots. But it’s moments like that either make or break us. Good luck with the trilogy and the feedback. From what I’ve read on your blog you have something very special.

  3. Pingback: How to get the hang of creative writing | Content Rambler

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